E-Stork II: Where Poisoned e-Waste Babies Come From

The first E-Stork post was a tale of three rivers:  Blackstone, Louhrajang, and Cape Fear.  Each poisoned river was traced upstream;  in each case, a textile mill was found.

When science sends journalists upstream, to witness the cause of pollution,  it's excusable to use a poster child baby in the story.  In the case of the Blackstone River, Saturday Evening Post stories about mill working children brought the pollution of the river into stark, cognitive risk.  Laws corrected the textile mills, and the rivers healed.

China's industrial revolution looks a lot like the Blackstone River Valley in the early 1900s.  Regulations may be ignored, but ignoring regulations is being documented.   This group of professors in China is bringing attention to an unpermitted steel mill (shanghaiscrap.com).  They aren't using baby pictures, but they are generating attention by being viral on the web.

Consensus over regulation begins with facts and science, getting the upstream and downstream on the table.   Annie Leonard is right about demand for "Stuff" driving competition to cut corners.   But the WSJ is also right, that cheaper goods benefit the poorest people (both in manufacturing and consumption).  It's easy for the rich to assert that Cheap is Bad.   If it helps you sleep at night to wear certified organic wool, good for you.

EPA took an important step in 2008 to try to bring groups to the table to air out such a compromise, in what eventually was labelled R2 or Responsible Recycler certification.

Listen, I have to compete with lots of un-ethical ewaste recyclers who take lots of short cuts, and  who don't have any incentive to remove "difficult to manage" wastes from the exported electronics.   I don't want to be known as an apologist for lazy recycling practices.  But the bar to export equipment for repair and refurbishing is being set so high that commerce cannot survive, and I strongly suspect that "planned obsolescence" is the force behind it.  Shortening the life of stuff by cutting off the 3B3K or "good enough" market and installing shredders is one answer.  It's a dumb answer, a wrong answer.

If a river is poisoned, let's publicize it.  Let's research it upstream, and locate the cause.

Not Upstream.  Period.  Closed down.
The cause of the pollution was never, ever, ever the semiknockdown, SKD, elective upgrade, white box warranty-repair-turned-white-box manufacturers.  No one ever traced the pollution to them, and I have years of vitriol left in my tank for the people who accused them of such.  Like the Mockingbird Tom Robinson, like Huck's friend Jim, they are innocent of anything except not being white.

The repair and refurbishing Geeks of Color are nothing, nothing like a textile mill.  They are the most pristine, innocent form of internet access goods that anyone could dream of, polluting less than brand new manufacturing.  I'm their John the Baptist.

A liar has used pictures of children by rivers to describe the geeks of color.  I'm here to spoil his victory parade.  I do not reject the use of childrens photos to promote environmental justice, I understand how they made the difference between the Blackstone and the Louhrajang.  But innocent technicians are being lynched, and dictators are taking cues from environmentalists to ban import of tested working computers.

What has happened to the computer monitor refurbishing factories (who cannot get "permits" or "permission" from authorities to compete with virgin product manufacturers) may happen next to plastic recycling, copper recycling, lead recycling.   Recycling is the best way to get raw materials, but its export competes with dirty little secret mines and polluting smelters who make big contributions to keep their own pollution under wraps.

When asked where poisoned babies come from, American journalists seem to feel safe in reporting "the stork brought them".   In ten years, SOMEONE should have gone upstream.  Scott Pelley may have as well held the gun to the head of Hamdy or Fung, because he has shown no interest in protecting the innocent technicians thrown under the bus while he polishes his Polk Award.

When Scott Pelley of CBS reports that Guiyu China is "the most toxic place on earth", he is putting it on a list (like the one in Part III) which have been painstakingly researched over decades to pinpoint actual causes.   Where does the arsenic come from?   Which "e-waste" recycling process put the arsenic in the Guiyu river?  Was it the computer monitors - circled in Hong Kong but unseen in Guiyu?

Visit SOS-arsenic.net  That is how science works.

If I truly, truly care about babies being poisoned, I don't declare a false source of poison.  I don't pretend I know where the poison comes from if I haven't looked upstream.  I don't take people's money to sell snake oil solutions, I don't invoke white people ju-ju words like "waste" to scare people.  I don't applaud dictators who pass laws against internet cafes and seize containerloads of working equipment.

If I accepted money to declare the cause of arsenic in baby blood, and someone discovered another source, I'd have some sense of humility.  I might even give the money back.  It's a choice between guilt and Alzheimer's.  Poisoned babies don't come from the E-Stork.

Evolving green creation science
In our decade, the environmental movement has demonstrated we are not immune from the scandals that bring down the Catholic Church or Penn Coach Joe Paterno.  We can cling to political correctness with the fervor of "creation science".  When someone we applaud turns out to be making mistakes, the best thing is OUT with it.  Call the ducks ducks.  Call the E-stork as stork.

If we allow our most respected journalists to get Polk Awards for mistakes, and do not correct the mistakes, journalism could well go the way of organized religion.  If CBS News Anchor Scott Pelley says that Guiyu is A) the most toxic place on earth, and B) that the toxic came from computer equipment exported from the USA, he has a limited number of years to correct the mistake. He cannot continue to tell us that poisoned babies come from the E-Stork.

Solly Granatstein, the CBS producer of Wasteland, meant well.  But the fact they caught a jerk misrepresenting what he did with used computers does not balance out the incredible, devastating harm they did to large factories that were buying computer monitors and making them into Arab Spring Display Devices.   The computer monitors they circled in Hong Kong were far more likely to wind up in the hands of Twitter-Facebook-Revolution 2.0 college students in Cairo than they were to wind up in Guiyu.  And if one did wind up in Guiyu, and CBS thinks it was the source of arsenic in the water, CBS should go back to J-school.  He believed that poisoned babies are delivered by the E-Stork.

The travesty here is that America is shredding assets like computer monitors that still work and are repairable, and forcing Geeks of Color to buy them from back alleys.   America needs to recoup the money and jobs from our upgraded replaced assets.  We cannot afford to shred our used cars when we buy a new one, and a cash for clunkers program for used computers will injure the poor.  More poisoned babies will result.

Poisoned rivers must be followed upstream.  Finding brown people at a poisoned river does not justify a boycott of brown people.

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